A significant part of the Netherlands lies below sea level. When about ten thousand years ago the ice age ended, the sea level rose and thereby created the North Sea. The land that’s now known as ‘Holland’ or ‘The Netherlands’ was inhabitable by that time and it took many ages for it to develop into a peat swamp.

The Battle against the water

From the moment that the first inhabitants settled down in the Netherlands, the struggle against the water began. These people lived on the high sand dunes. Hunting, fishing and modest farming where their ways to provide their basic needs. They built mounds (in Dutch called ‘terps’) to flee at high tide. The first real dikes and other protective structures were built with the arrival of the Romans. The built the first dams, in the Rhine Valley, near Cleves and they excavated the first canals, ‘de Vliet’ near Voorburg that connects the Old Rhine and the river Schie.

Flood control

Around the tenth century the inhabitants of the Netherlands started their flood control projects: The first dikes appeared along the coastlines in the form of simple low embankments, manufactured using nothing more than spades and baskets. These first dikes gave way in every serious attack of the water. The embankments, built mainly by the monasteries caused excess of inland water which of course had to be drained. Initially sluices were made to function as outlets at low tide. When about six hundred years ago the windmills were invented, even more and deeper polders could be kept dry.

Flooding through the ages

In the early medieval ages primitive dikes provided only poor protection against the sea. No a century passed without a flooding. Between 1000 and 1953 111 severe and less severe floods hit the Western-Netherlands. In the nineteenth century dikes became better and stronger by the arrival of more advanced materials, techniques and tools, such as the concrete-stone slopes and steam engines. Even in the twentieth century though floodings occurred in the Netherlands: in 1906, in 1916 and the biggest one of recent centuries in 1953.

The Dutch are able to work and live in a water-rich country without drowning and that’s largely due to their dike builders, engineers and other construction workers because they are the ones that have built, maintained, and keep maintaining the dikes. In other words dike construction refers to the infrastructure around living and working in water rich environments.